Not too long after an impressive victory at the Ocean State Invitational at the start of the season, Paul Bergeron had what he called, “a little hiccup,” where he suffered a slight back injury. The setback forced the Westford Academy standout to resort to cross-training for about a month of an already-short cross-country season.
“After Ocean State, I kind of ran a race I shouldn’t have and tried to cool down and it just didn’t work,” he said.
While he says his back isn’t quite 100 percent yet, it would fair to say that it has no affect on his running right now and his goals remain the same with the Foot Locker regional and national meets occupying the next few weekends.
For the second straight week, the Stanford-bound senior blasted away from a talented field with a mile remaining to ensure he was the first to cross the finish. His latest on a cool Saturday afternoon at Fort Devens earned Bergeron his second straight Division 1 crown at the MIAA Meet of Champions and a winning time of 15 minutes, 6.43 seconds for the five-kilometer course.
Bergeron led at total of 11 runners under 16 minutes. Early-race leader Chris Larnard of Boston College High secured second at 15:25.21. He was followed by Westford Academy’s Jack Graffeo in third at 15.31.47.
As expected, Brookline captured the team title and the Warriors did it rather convincingly. With all five of their scoring runners among the top 18, Brookline defeated last week’s Div. 1A champion Newton South, 54-114. BC High was third at 164.
In the race for individual honors, Larnard made sure the race wouldn’t turn tactical by taking the pace out hard from the beginning. The Eagles’ senior held the lead over his competition for the first two thirds of the race.
As the runners made their way on the second of three loops on the challenging 5K only Bergeron would remain in close contact of Larnard in the late stages.
“I wanted to make (the race) as comfortable as possible,” the WA senior admitted. “Chris made it honest. Chris going out at 2:40-2:50 for the first K, definitely kept it a little humbling. I still felt good. I was surprised to see that clip to be honest, but I still felt comfortable. Literally at mile two, i threw in a crazy surge for a half a mile and just tried to hold on.”
Bergeron’s race was nearly a carbon copy of a week earlier when he won the Div. 1A title by 11 seconds over Graffeo with his time of 15:38.2. That race secured the notion that his injury was behind him.
Going into that competition, he only had run one workout since his setback.
“That was my test,” he said. “(I did) the same thing I did in this race, wait until mile two and throw in the hard surge. I felt good last week, but felt great this week.”
Bergeron is now setting his sites on San Diego and making his second straight trip to the Foot Locker Nationals. He has vastly different goals this time around for the postseason meet, which begins on Saturday with the FL Northeast Regionals at Franklin Park.
“I want to go out there and get the win (at regionals) and for the nationals get the win,” he said. “That was the goal at the start of the season. I still think it’s definitely within my reach. Next week, that’s what I am dialed into. Just go for the win, see what I can do, see how comfortable I feel going into the last mile and try and make a move.”
On the subject of nationals, that has also been the goal for Brookline, which will be heading to Bowdoin Park next week in Wappinger Falls, NY, for the NXR Northeast Regionals. The top teams there earn a ticket to the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) in Portland, OR.
The nationals was the top priority for head coach Mike Glennon and his squad since capturing last year’s Div. 1 title at the MOC.
“It was right from the beginning,” said Glennon, who squad also coasted to last year’s MOC, capturing the crown by 39 points over Westford Academy. “We knew last year when we dominated this meet, and we had six of eight kids coming back, we knew that this year was all about trying to making nationals.”
Just like its done all season long, Brookline utilized pack mentality. A mere 19.88 seconds separated its one through five runners. Occupying those spots were Ben Kasen (seventh, 15:52.48), Kailas Ciatto (eighth, 15:53.66), Pablo Tejedor Meyers (ninth, 15:54.98), Altamo Aschkenasy (13th, 16;01.55) and Lysander Duffield (18th, 16:11.54).
“I am happy where we were,” he said. “We definitely want to be as tight as we possibly can. We will really need that next week.”
With a brutal season-ending schedule included last week’s divisional state meet and finishes with the possibility of competing at NXN on Dec. 2, Glennon had three of his top runners not compete last weekend to prepare for what’s in store. Brookline finished fifth overall. in the meet.
“Our whole season has been trying to qualify for nationals,”: he said. “We got to run the regional meet next week. I just thought it would be too many meets in a row of trying to go too hard.”
Brookline, which is currently ranked No. 4 in the region, will face a mega-talented field at NXR-NE, one that includes Christian Brothers Academy, a team that is No. 2 in the country right now.
“We have a lot, a lot of competition next week,” Glennon said. “We are just trying to do the best that we can.”
In a wild finish where the top three runners were separated by 1.43 seconds, Adam Balewicz placed third in this race in 2022 to Burlington’s Rithikh Prakash and Falmouth’s Henry Gartner, the 1-2 finishers.
By the midway point of Saturday’s race, it was clear that would not happen again.
Marblehead’s Isaac Gross, last week’s Div. 2A champion, took the race out hard with a blistering pace for the first half of the race before Balewicz took over and never looked back en route to a strong 15:33.29 clocking. Gross held on for second at 16:04.50. Placing third was Ludlow’s Joseph Keroack at 16:10.25.
“It’s awesome,” Balewicz said. “Last year I lost by a second in a sprint finish. This was super rewarding to come out on top this time.”
The Nashoba senior, a winner in Div. 2B last week by 20 seconds. admitted he didn’t exactly get the best start, but it didn’t affect his mindset.
“I felt very smooth, very comfortable,” he said. “I got out of it slow at the beginning and got boxed in and had to work the first mile trying to get around people. (Gross), who was in the front, he went out fast last week, too. I knew he was going fast again this week so I just had to trust my training, trust I could catch up to him and take him down.”
Next up for Balewicz is the Foot Locker regionals where he ‘s well aware it will be a grind against the region’s best. He’s hoping for a top-10 finish and a trip out west for the national meet.
“I am really looking forward to it,” he said. “I think that’s going to push me more than I’ve been pushed all season. Obviously it’s going to take a great effort. They are a bunch of great guys in New England. I am confident I can do it if I play my cards right and perform on the day.”
For the first time in the school’s history, Danvers took home the team title. The Falcons defeated familiar rival Ludlow, 92-105. Marblehead was third with 146 points.
Danvers set the tone in the race with three of its runners across the line before the second for Ludlow, who also was the runner-up to the Falcons at the Div. 2B Championships.
“It’s always great to win, but our goal all along was we wanted to train everyday and practice like a team that could win a state title. If we were focused on the process, we knew we had a good shot,” said head coach Jeff Barlett. “Our guys were very consistent. They do the work everyday. We were under the radar a little but because we only ran one invite…People, understandably, forgot about us.”
Danvers was led by a fourth-place finish for Isaac Moore, was was fourth overall in 16:10.9. Junior teammate Jonathan Rooney also cracked the top 10 at 16:24.51, good for tenth overall. The remaining three scorers were William Conklin (12th, 16:32.07), Chris Garlin (22nd, 16:54.07) and William Dumont (69th, 17:43.96), who lost his shoe after the first mile and ran the remainder of the race with one shoe.
Timothy Rank didn’t care about the number on the clock. All he cared about was getting across the finish line with no one in front of him.
The Littleton High senior accomplished that goal in the first race of the day. After biding his time for the first mile, Rank took control on difficult 5K course where he posted a triumphant 15:44.63. Just over a second ahead of fast-charging Devin Moreau of Greater Lowell Tech, who was timed in 15:46.18. Northbridge’s Marcus Reilly was third at 16:04.70.
“I figured I could win it a lot of different ways,” said the ultra-confident Rank, who earned the Div. 3B title last week. “I wanted to just practice what I need going into Foot Locker (regionals), which is being comfortable with the people in the race the first mile and being able to close really hard the last two miles. That’s kind of what I did.”
Rank will join plethora of MA harriers that will head to Franklin Park this weekend for the the Foot Locker regionals. Like most of the state’s top runners making the trip, he’s hoping for a top-10 finish and trip to the nationals.
“That’s been the goal all season,” he said. “That’s the plan.”
Pre-race favorite Parker Charter won its third team crown since 2017 with a 63-118 victory over second-place Weston. Hamilton-Wenham was third at 140. Henry Jacobsen had the top placement for the Panthers, taking fourth overall in 16:15.84. He was followed by Caleb Hatlevig (sixth, 16:23.90), Jett Johnson (19th, 16:55.65), Nathanael Henshaw (21st, 16:57.61) and Connor Stach (29th, 17:18.31).
“I have never been around such a confident group.” said Parker Charter head coach Ben Benoit. “The plan was never to blow out the competition. The plan was to be the best we could in the moment. We’ve got a group of overachievers and we had a good plan and they executed the plan. It went even better than we thought it might.. It’s a combination of those things.”
Parker Charter last won in 2021. The Panthers were able to win this year despite losing several key runners from last fall.
“We lost three of our top six last year,” he said. “We were not sure we’d be back in the top five. It’s a group of guys that grew up quickly, learned from good runners. It’s just been a great week.”